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It's only fair up front to admit that, if we are judging by consistent quality and full body of work, Darkthrone is by far my favorite black metal band in the world. Not only this, but I feel they are the most influential as well. Burzum, Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Mayhem, Mercyful Fate, Venom and Bathory are also major direct influences on the many thousands of bands to spawn since, and important ones, but the overwhelming majority of cult underground or 'bedroom' bands, even to an extent the entire depressive scene, owes a lot to the Norwegian duo (who themselves carry the influence of several on that list). Not only this, but Darkthrone have an uncanny knack of subtly re-inventing themselves throughout their discography, without ever making a tasteless choice in direction. The band have had their critics through the years; as with any cult fanbase, a sect of stubborn young (old by now) men that, in their audio xenophobia, refuse to embrace any subtle shift in tone or style, expecting the power of their own nostalgia to convince a band to release the same, identical album forever, but in my opinion, Darkthrone have trumped all takers, as there is not a single album in their history which I don't at least consider to be great.
So, you could call me a fanboy. I really can't help it; this band represents every quality I love in musical disposition and follow through. Fuck trends, fuck narcissistic rock stardom, fuck scenes, and fuck you. This is BLACK METAL. It is not intended for corporate sponsors, groupies, fashionistas, motion pictures, cartoons, or any form of mass appeal madness. It is not intended for happiness. It is the polar opposite of brainwashing, mindnumbing feces like Lady Gaga, Avenged Sevenfold or Killswitch Engage. It caters to the few, the individual, and the listener with the rare ability to transcend the surface, to shuck the superficiality of the music industry and even to an extent, the entire shallow 'metal' image. A little hard to believe, perhaps, since people believe fire breathing, leather and spikes are all synonymous with metal, and as stage effects, they have been. But most great metal acts have a lot more to say than just to play to some fucking lightshow, and as situationally self-aware and oft comedic as they have become, Darkthrone is one such legend.
All legends deserve tribute, but I was honestly pretty surprised by the decision to release a compilation album. I'm not sure if it was more Peaceville's idea or Darkthrone's. Judging by the classy, honest presentation, both must have had an involvement here. But let's back up a second. There are TWO versions of Preparing for War, one released in 2000 which only features a single disc, and an expanded, limited release in 2005 which features two discs and a bonus DVD. You DO NOT WANT the 2000 edition. Trust me, if you can find the later version, it is worth the extra money you might pay, because there is more material offered and thus the inherent value is superior. I am not a fan of compilations, in particular collections of previously released material, and I can only imagine any Darkthrone fan worth his salt would already own the actual albums, since it's an underground privilege! At best, they will offer a lot of hard to find, rare material, b-sides, demos, and the like. The special 2005 edition of Preparing for War does exactly this, but you do have to wade through a bunch of redundant album tracks to get there.
Disc 1 consists of 15 tracks (the original Preparing for War release), which collect tracks from the first four albums of the band, including Soulside Journey, which is represented here by "Grave With a View", "Cromlech" and "Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia". "The Pagan Winter" and "In the Shadow of the Horns" from A Blaze in the Northern Sky are present, as are "Natassja in Eternal Sleep" and the title track of Under a Funeral Moon. Transilvanian Hunger gets three offerings: the title track, "I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjød", and "Skald Av Satans Sol". All good choices, but you've already heard them... Far more interesting would be the inclusion of "Snowfall" from the New Dimension demo (1988), a 9+ minute instrumental composed of doom, death and thrash/crossover rhythms over Gylve's drumming. It's essentially a rehearsal track, so one cannot expect much in terms of sound, yet it does develop some decent melodies and it's not bad for background noise. "Archipelago" from the 1989 Thulcandra demo is also present, a raw death metal track with a heavy Hellhammer and Slayer influence, and wild vocals that range from great grunts to the off resonant, silly snarl. Another treat is the inclusion of some live material from one of the band's only appearances in Oslo, 1989. The band performs "Eon/Thulcandra" and "Soria Moria", and I'd be lying if I said that hearing these did not make me jealous that I simply couldn't have been there (in my defense, I was a doe-eyed 14 year old who had yet to even heard of the band). There is another live rendition of "Neptune Towers" here which rounds out the disc, and this is pretty fucking excellent and the best thing on it.
Disc 2 makes the package all the more worthwhile if you don't already have access to the band's demos, though the later Frostland Tapes compilation has a more orderly, completist approach to this. Most of the 13 tracks here are demos/rehearsals of material from the first three albums, including some good and raw versions of "Under a Funeral Moon", "Summer of the Diabolical Holocaust", "Kathaarian Life Code", "Where Cold Winds Blow", and so forth. Once again, everything here is redundant if you've got the studio albums, and there is no version here that I might place above its album counterpart, but at least it's not 100% riff for riff the same. The DVD (Disc 3) is probably the most worthwhile of the three, because it catalogues the band's rare lives, from their Oslo TV spot in 1989, to their Riihimaki Finland 1991 set, Lahti Finland 1991 set, and Oslo in 1996. Most of us are never going to see this band live, ever, which in a way I find satisfying...because it's pretty much as anti 'rawk stah' as it gets. But if you wanted to, you could always witness them in the early days with this. There are also some additional interviews and a photo gallery on the DVD.
Preparing for War is really only worth it for hardcore fans of the band, and even then I would absolutely not recommend that you waste money on the original 2000 edition. You can get all the thrills of this material on the respective albums (and demos), but the DVD represents most of the value in this package. If you just want all the demos in their pure form, get The Frostland Tapes instead. Otherwise, if you're new to the band, I'd advise you to dig right in with some of their earlier albums, and observe for yourself the slow process by which they evolved into their more recent punk-metal style, from their bleak and beautiful past.
If there is one thing that would appear to be an oxymoron it’s the idea of Darkthrone putting out a best of compilation. A self-respecting fan of this band would sooner sell himself on the streets of Soho at 6 pence a pop than be without their first 4 albums at his immediate disposal. However, a compilation carrying a large collection of songs that can’t or, at the time, couldn’t have been acquired is another matter. When approaching this particular album, you have to see it more as a collection of rarities than a best of; the fact that some of the band’s classic tracks from their more famous albums thus becomes something of a nice bonus to aid the listener in getting into the concept of the band’s pre-black metal demos and performances.
Insofar as the best of portion of this release, the band did an excellent job of selecting the stand outs of each album, particularly the “Transylvanian Hunger” selections. The principle flaw in that album was that when taken as a whole, it was a flat and near one-dimensional listen. But when taking these songs individually, they are a lot easier to appreciate in their unique blend of melodic minimalism and darkened atmospheres. “I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjød” in particular takes on its own individual character as it stretches out a singular chord for 80% of the extended main riff, frustrating the listener’s desire for harmonic cadence until the very end where a sudden three chord pass marks the end of the idea. When heard without the other seven similar sounding songs, each song establishes its own identity, as they contrast very heavily with the surrounding songs from the other 2 albums of the black trilogy and the pre-black material.
Indeed, the pretense of pointlessness that this album might otherwise carry completely vanishes when you take note of how heavily the material from the 4 various albums contrast with each other. The clean cut yet vintage 80s sounding death/thrash of “Soulside Journey” has a sense of commonality with the black metal material, particularly with “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, despite the radically different approach in mixing technique. Nocturno’s lead breaks are a good deal shorter and simpler on the latter album, Dag Nilsen’s bass is not as heavy and raunchy but it’s still recognizable, and Fenriz’s drums employ more blast beats than thrash beats but still sound pretty close in both cases. The material from “Under A Funeral Moon” is actually the most distinctive of all in its snowy, almost entirely static oriented delivery, and harkens back heavily to the primordial origins of the genre established on the Bathory’s debut and Sodom’s pre-1986 releases.
But the real point of interest here is the non-album rarities that have been included, particularly the live recordings. Most of these are in instrumental form, save the live version of “Neptune Towers”, but all of them prove unequivocally that the reason this band never plays live has nothing to do with an inability to pull the stuff off in that venue. Even without all of the mixing and vocal doubling that probably made his voice sound so much like a demonic tyrannosaurus on a few select spots of “Soulside Journey”, Nocturno’s vocals sound really large and powerful. The music is pulled off perfectly, including the agitated guitar solos, and is thankfully without all of the crowd noise that you often get with live recordings. The stuff from the demos is very different from even the “Soulside Journey” material, almost becoming technically oriented enough to sound like an instrumental 70s progressive rock meets Sepultura’s “Morbid Visions” style, particularly in the case of the 9 minute riff fest “Snowfall”. Even though in a few places the guitars either phase in and out or even cut out completely on one side from the flawed recording methods of the day, the song is highly enjoyable and a necessary step in the evolutionary ladder that led to their ingenious debut studio effort.
Although this is a great listen when taken by itself, rather than a compilation of material from other albums, the only point in picking this up is the live material. The demo tracks were another reason until the release of “Frostland Tapes”, which is definitely an essential pick up for anyone interested in the origins of this pioneering 2nd wave black metal outfit. This is more of a sample pack for some newcomer to the band who may or may not actually get into the black material than anything else and is only recommended as such. If you’re too poor to own the entire discography, at the very least, pick up “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, as it provides a versatile listen and can function equally well as a gateway to appreciating the later material put out by this band.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on October 12, 2008.
I usually hate "best-of"s, especially in this age of digital piracy, because there's no need to repackage songs that have already been released in another form. Let the people rip the songs to their computers and burn their favorites to disc. Usually, to be worth anything, there has to be something new. Most best of's don't have anything new. They're just cash grabs.
Preparing For War, for the most part, is no different. Now, I'm analyzing this as if I were a tried and true Darkthrone fan (I'm not). If you want my opinion on the actual song material, read the reviews for the respective albums. I'm just reviewing the usefulness of this compilation. And on that note, I really don't get the point of this, other than a cynical cash grab. It appears to be made for a darkthrone beginner, because it mostly consists of already released material. In that case, what's the point of the 2 unreleased demo songs? If you're just trying to get into black metal, why the shoddy death metal demo tracks? Unless, of course, this was meant for the Darkthrone enthusiast, in which case, what's the point of re-releasing all the "classic" material, which was already on albums that any black metaller, Darkthrone fan or not, should at least have already had in one form or another? Seems pretty sketchy to me.
Seriously, this "best of" is too unoriginal and contrived for there to be any other reason for its existence. It seems to be a blatant cash grab by Peaceville (or Darkthrone, I'm not sure which). Or a joke, in which case the joke is on the saps who bought this. I would say download it (not buy it) just for the 2 demo songs, but they're already released, along with ALL of Darkthrone's demo material, on the Frostland Tapes, so in that case, don't even bother. Just buy the Frostland tapes if you're a Darkthrone enthusiast and want "unreleased" material, and if you want an introduction to Darkthrone, simply get Under a Funeral Moon or Panzerfaust.
The problem with compiling any best-of is that you have two equally important markets to satisfy – on the one hand, you have the long-time fans who probably own most of the albums who will want to see all of the best songs there and something new, on the other hand you have the potential fans and casual listeners, who want the band’s “key” songs to get started with. Luckily, Darkthrone’s Preparing For War strikes that lucky balance. Having previously only really heard a jumble of MP3s and the 30 second samples HMV allows people to listen to of their albums I can honestly say, as a potential fan, its worked. The first five Darkthrone albums are all now on my list of CDs to get, furthermore, everything I’ve read seems to suggest the songs here satisfy the long-term fans as well. In particular there are two demos and a couple rare live tracks, making it a very attractive package indeed for the fan who has everything else.
However, the album is really let down by one thing – pacing. Nobody wants a 9 minute demo instrumental as the second song to a compilation – even the long-term fans expect the rough demos to close the record and (frankly) its just plain off-putting to the new listener. The whole album is a mess, with what seems to be no thought put into organisation. Its not chronological, its not in order of “biggest hits,” in fact, I can’t see any rational method of organising a CD which would have ended up anything like this.
Beyond this, however, there’s not really much to argue with (except the obvious fact it contains nothing Panzerfaust onwards, due to this being a compilation by the label which released their first four albums). If you know anything about Darkthrone you know what to expect – rough, raw, fast black metal with bare-bones production. If you like that sorta music you’ll like this, if you don’t, you won’t. Simple as. Everything is what you’d expect from one of the most important black metal (well, death metal on their debut Soulside Journey) bands in the universe.
On the whole, what you have here is a solid collection of fine songs by a legendary band, all of which are highly listenable if this is your kind of thing, its just a bit messy in terms of order. For this reason I’d recommend putting it on computer, making a playlist, moving a few songs about (in particular Snowfall) to an order that makes a bit more sense to your ears and enjoy!
Since their signing to Norway’s Moonfog label, Darkthrone have quite admirably, yet sometimes tediously, continued to follow their renowned path of reasonably under-produced and all in all rebellious Black Metal. Yet it is undeniable that the band’s absolute best and most legendary material was recorded in the early 90s whilst signed to the English label Peaceville. “Preparing For War” is essentially a collection of some of this early material, yet also includes two tracks from each of the Darkthrone demos as well as three extremely rare and desirable live tracks (especially since they vowed never to play live again after 1996.)
It is blatantly obvious that Peaceville put a considerable deal of effort into compiling this ‘best of’ release, by tracking down and including a selection of more uncommon tracks that fans were somewhat unlikely to own or have heard themselves. Also, with a brief two-page history of the band, written by drummer Fenriz in his customary humorous style, it is apparent to the listener that the band were happy to give their approval to this release, hence giving it a certain sense of credibility within the Darkthrone discography. The music itself is a relatively balanced affair, with the majority of the tracks taken from the band’s four Peaceville releases: “Soulside Journey”, “A Blaze In The Northern Sky”, “Under A Funeral Moon” and “Transilvanian Hunger”. However, the order of the tracks seems a little puzzling and perhaps random. Opening with the title track from “Transilvanian Hunger” and then proceeding with two demo tracks, the order almost seems to slow down the compilation. Evidently, it would have seemed much more logical to use this album as a chronological musical history of the band, starting with the demo tracks and finishing with the more recent ones.
However, the order of the track list is perhaps the only quibble to be had here, as the songs included are utterly remarkable. “The Pagan Winter”, “Natassja In Eternal Sleep” and the live “Neptune Towers” all stand out as true Black Metal classics and demo tracks like “Snowfall” and “Archipelago” allow the listener to hear the very humble, yet exciting, beginnings of one of the most celebrated bands of the genre. Austerely, “Preparing For War” is absolutely necessary for any Darkthrone fan, purely for the rare tracks alone. Yet, this anthology would also be an excellent introduction to the band for those so far uninitiated, as it contains such an impressive variety of music from their earlier years. If you can look past the patchy, minimalist production (probably the hardest task when listening to Darkthrone), then this album is well worth purchasing purely as a basic preface to this phenomenal band.
Originally written for http://www.blastwave.co.uk
Darkthrone’s latest album, “The Cult is Alive” sounds like it took as long to make as it takes to listen to, and is no worse for that. The band’s DIY aesthetic is well in evidence with a return to the home-studio ambience (little bass, phone-booth drums etc) of its seminal black albums. It’s what helps to make DT so special, or pathetic, depending on your point of view. No pretense or production, just raw, visceral riffs, then a few beers, not necessarily in that order.
The “Preparing for War” Special Edition box is the total overdose for fans of the “raw necro” DT rather than the later, more polished albums of the “Ravishing Grimness” era and style. The first disc has been available for some time and is a cracker, a genuine “best of” the Peaceville albums with demos and live tracks thrown in. On its own, Disc 1 is a must-have.
Disc 2’s compilation of demos and rehearsal tracks shows clearly the band’s transition from death to black metal. Strongly evident is Fenriz’ noble (?) intention of minimizing his drum technique over time. The demo tracks from the late Eighties show him to be quite a proficient, technical death metal drummer with a real native swing to his playing. As time goes by, his style is stripped back to the barest minimum. As he himself says in interview on Disc 3 (DVD), black metal is not about drums but riffs. The drums are there to serve the riffs. Nonetheless, Disc 2 highlights Fenriz’ great propensity for swing and backbeat. His two-beat polka romp propels the “Under a Funeral Moon” rehearsal at a cracking pace, even faster than the official version, and, as the last track on the disc, is fittingly its highlight.
The set’s third disc is a DVD containing video footage of (all?) the band’s live performances. Typically Darkthrone, the video quality is at best grainy and at worst as good as a fifth-generation VHS re-dub. Whatever, it’s great to have it just for its own sake. Highlights have to include the four-piece band’s TV appearance in 1989 playing tracks from “Soulside Journey”: lots of moshing blond hair in the two-guitar-and-bass frontline with Fenriz bashing grandly up on the riser. Preposterous stuff! No wonder they quit playing live! The “interviews” (Fenriz and Nocturno taking it in turns with the handi-cam) are not as enlightening as the excellent interview transcribed in the accompanying booklet, but, again, it’s great to see and hear them in the flesh, so to speak. Fenriz lives up to his joker reputation and both clearly show the long-term effects of years of hard work and dedication to the black metal craft (nudge, wink).
All in all, unmissable for the DT devotee.
First off I need to say that this is my first Black Metal cd. I will focus on the BM songs here mostly as they were my primary interest. Part of me expected an overwhelming assault on my senses, after hearing Marduk and random black metal from mp3’s. When putting this on for the first time, I found that the music is very non-intrusive. The music is quiet and from first listening sounds like the raindrops hitting the ground in the background or a howling blizzard.
After repeated listening, patterns emerge. The music sounds primitive, with several disjointed riffs that can be described as hypnotizing and trance inducing. The drums are fast and monotone on some tracks, but because they are in the background they don’t cause too much irritation. The evil croaking vocals appear out of nowhere. Each section paints another part of the picture. Some tracks start mid riff and are cut short at the end. Oops, someone pulled the plug.
Tracks vary in recording volume and between Death and Black metal. It all comes together as one amazing trip.
If you get lost in the trance, you see several images pass you by.
Sunless world. All life frozen over. Shadows in the forest. A small town from another time. Wooden houses. A small cemetery in the twilight. Descent into the grave. Funeral march. Eternal winter. It is not easy to keep track of time when listening to this. Listen to it yourself, turn off the lights, put the headphones on and you will see it for yourself.
Now, as for Death metal it is just a great listen as well. This is not a band that needs to prove how brutal they can be. Headbangable riffs, solid playing, no “what the fuck was that” moments. Everything is easy on the ears, even though it is crammed to the brim, you will wish this cd was twice as long. The effect is quite uplifting and addictive. Also, the tell-tale sign of a good piece of art is multiple interpretations; well this one passes that test with flying colors.
As for the content it covers 1988 and 1989 demos, first 4 LPs, two live performances recorded in 1989 and two unreleased tracks, if I got my math right. The recording quality is universally bad, which is not a bad thing in this case, as I cannot see music being this good otherwise.
If I had to choose a favourite, then Transilvanian Hunger tracks are the ones that sound with most potency to me.
This is a great way to get into Darkthrone, or you can get it for unreleased and hard to get stuff.
This is an awesome fucking collection of songs from a band that embodied all that Unholy Black Metal ever stood for. If you have just begun listening to Black Metal this is a sure essential, seeing as its a large variety of the bands best tunes. Few bands deserve a "greatest hits", but even fewer people would argue against this ones worth, and with that said this is a great commemoration of a bands music that has influenced a genration of Black Metal musicians.
With high lights like Grave With A View, Under A Funeral Moon, I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjod, and In The Shadow Of The Horns this album contains some classic Black Metal songs that otherwise would force you to purchase many albums just to have the tunes on here (not to mention the previously unreleased demo tracks). Inside the album there contains a very brief history of how Darkthrone came to be (basically a few notes about the inception stage of the band).
If you cant, or dont want to go out and buy the bands discography this is an ample substitute. A great album, even after many, many plays.
Darkthrone is for the evil in mankind!